Oscar E Moore

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TRUE WEST unbalanced revival – a toast to the toasters

February 3rd, 2019 by Oscar E Moore

Sam Shepard’s 1980 period piece TRUE WEST comes across as an amalgamation of character study, Albee’s The American Dream (1961) and Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple (1965) with a chorus of toasters thrown in for good measure now running at the much too large American Airlines Theatre through March 17th.

It stars Ethan Hawke and Paul Dano as brothers Lee and Austin respectively.  Yin and Yang.  Cain and Abel.  Wild and mild.

Both halves of one personality:  the shadow and the light.  I think that comes from a Jonathan Kellerman novel spoken by a psychologist.  In any event…

The stage is framed with an eyesore inducing frame of bright lights that stun during the many scene changes accompanied by bizarre sound effects and original music (Bray Poor) that includes crickets and coyote yelps.

Director James Macdonald moseys along in Act I at a moderate pace and does not take full advantage of the inherent dark humor to be mined in Sam Shepard’s universe.

The spic-and-span unit set (Mimi Lien) in true Cinemascope fashion stretches across the stage with lovely hanging plants that are flourishing and a lot of tchotchkes, some of which miraculously survive the tornado that sweeps across the kitchen in Act II as the brothers (who have taken on the persona of the other) verbally and physically spar and make a mess of the set and each other with the aforementioned toasters highlighted.  But I have gotten ahead of myself.

The home belongs to their mother (Mary Louise Burke) who is away on a trip to Alaska.  Austin is a successful writer with a wife up North and kids who is house sitting and taking care of the plants.  He is also spic-and-span clean.  Lee, the drop in brother who hasn’t been seen for 5 years isn’t.  Just the opposite.  But a charmer and a con man.  A heavy drinker.  A dreamer.  A thief.  A menace.  As Austin attempts to finish a draft for a screenplay that your typical clichéd Hollywood producer Saul Kimmer (Gary Wilmes) is interested in.

Lee has been in the desert visiting their old man who is a mess and losing his teeth one by one.

It seems that each one longs to have what the other one has.  And so Mr. Shephard has them transition into one another when Lee comes up with an idea for a true to life Western that he pitches to the producer on a golf course – (where he learned to play golf is just one of the many questionable and preposterous plot points) and Austin becomes the menacing force.  He also follows in the footsteps of his brother by robbing the neighbors of a slew of toasters to prove he can do it.

The highlight of TRUE WEST is a drunken Austin making toast in all of the stolen toasters and sharing the pile of bread with his brother Lee who has conned Austin into co-writing the Western.

The producer loves Lee’s Western chase movie idea more than the one Austin is working on (a period piece) which causes quite a problem to say the least.  Especially when they both are schnockered.  A common ground they now share.

Unfortunately Paul Dano is totally miscast and so half of the equation goes missing in this very uneven production.  While Ethan Hawke makes up for that in spades.  Perhaps a bit too much in spades.

As they wrestle to near death in the kitchen that has been pretty much decimated and the plants have all died (no plant will have such a quick death that I know of) Mom arrives and treats the scene like she has been through all this before and that her boys should go outside if they want to fight.

I leave you with one thought.  Let them eat toast!

A Roundabout Theatre Company revival.  2hrs. One 15 minute intermission.


Photos:  Joan Marcus

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